He knew he was about to die. Urgent voices filled the atmosphere around him. A soft light penetrated his closed eyelids.
The enemy must be nearby. Wonder what they hit me with. Open your eyes, Mick, or you’re dead for sure.
He pried his lids open, expecting to see the jungle canopy overhead. A sky full of stars winked down upon him. His head seemed as large as a grand champion pumpkin, and hurt? Oh man, did it hurt.
A siren shrieked, getting closer and louder by the second. Or was it one of those jungle birds? The gentle glow that bathed his body was flashing on and off now. The trees swayed and danced in the tropical moonlight. Strange words inserted themselves into his fuzzy thoughts.
I see men like trees, walking.
“I need that stretcher and a neck brace, stat!”
A vise squeezed Mick’s brains and he moaned. A rhythmic dull thud echoed in his ears.
Choppers. Incoming. Don’t they know we’re here? They drop that load they’re carryin’, and we’re roasted pigs at a luau.
A hand gripped his arm and ripped back the sleeve.
“He’s a druggie. No tellin’ what he’s on right now. Hook him up to a saline drip.”
Something, a mosquito perhaps, stung him on the bare skin of his arm. Mick tried to swat it but his arm would not respond. The enemy’s hands swarmed over him, prodding, then lifting his body over to a boardlike surface. In the sudden lurch of movement, his head shattered with fresh shards of pain and he sank into the velvety moss of a deep sleep.
Mick awoke to clean streams of light angling through Venetian blinds and across his legs. A brilliant white sheet hugged his chest. To his side, a machine beeped in a steady pace with his heartbeat.
“Hey, Mick, man. We thought you were a goner for sure.” Mick squinted from beneath gauze bandages toward the voice at the end of the bed. A man with snowy flyaway hair and icy blue eyes stared back at him. Dressed in a dark blue three piece business suit with a solid red tie, he looked like an old hippie turned stockbroker.
“Do I know you?” Mick’s voice slurred over the words. His mouth tasted metallic and sour. He swallowed and repeated his question.
“Yes, I think you do. I think you know both of us,” the man said, gesturing with a nonchalant wave toward the other end of the bed. Mick angled his gaze in the direction of the gesture.
A younger man in blue jeans and a red plaid shirt met his look with a smile. “You really shouldn’t mix those particular drugs with alcohol. You were a walking time bomb. This was bound to happen someday.”
“Where am I? The last I knew the enemy had surrounded me,” Mick muttered. Then, realizing the import of the young stranger’s statement, he grimaced. “I was tripping, wasn’t I?”
The white-haired stranger nodded, a smirk curling his lips. “You’re in the hospital.”
“So who are you?” Mick asked. “I’m certain I’ve never met either of you.”
“You met me in Sunday school at the full-gospel church down the street from where you lived, oh, about thirty-two years ago, I’d say,” the young man explained.
“And you met me in the jungles of ‘Nam. You are a war vet, right?”
“But I don’t remember . . . “
The white-haired man stood. His lips pulled back from yellowed teeth in a grotesque grin. “I’ve been with you a whole lot longer than he has!” He jabbed a furious finger in the direction of the other visitor.
The younger of the two shrugged. “But he did invite me to come along back then.” He smiled and folded his hands in his lap as if in prayer.
The older man glared.
“And now Mick has a choice to make.” The young man leaned forward in his chair as if waiting for an answer.
“I can keep you alive and make you powerful if you just say you regret ever saying those words.” The white-haired stranger’s eyes flashed with confidence. An odor of rancid flesh emanated from him.
Mick’s heart hammered in his chest and the ache in his head returned tenfold. His senses spun and the room darkened. Bubbles of light floated in his vision. His body seemed weightless, drifting. Death was near. Mick locked his gaze on the serene brown eyes of the young man, and he chose.
“I want life.”
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